Based on the board game of the same name, this NBC Game Show hosted by Chuck Woolery, famous for Wheel of Fortune and Love Connection, featured contestants trying to navigate a crossword puzzle-like board, forming words and winning cash.
Unlike the board game, however, the contestants did not form words themselves; instead, the words were pre-generated and as on Wheel the contestants had to provide the correct letters and guess the word. To do this, players were given a vague, punny clue (see above quote for example), then they would draw from a rack of "tiles", each representing a letter from the word (along with three "Stoppers", which didn't appear in the word), choose one of two letters to place within the word, and try to guess the word once the letter's position was revealed. A Stopper would end the player's turn.
Another difference from the board game was that letters had no value in themselves. The pink and blue Bonus Spaces on the board could be worth bonus cash to a player who correctly solved the word immediately after placing a letter on a colored square. The first player to solve three words...all together now...won the game...
...and would go on to the Sprint round, where they tried to solve four words quicker than their opponent (the returning champion in later years) by picking one of two letters in the word at a time (no Stoppers in this half of the game). Beginning in 1986, whoever won the Scrabble Sprint would attempt then a Bonus Sprint, where they had to guess two words in 10 seconds to win $5,000, increasing by $1,000 each time it wasn't won.
The series originally ran from 1984 to 1990, then returned briefly in 1993 as part of an hour-long block with Scattergories.
Game Show Tropes in use:
- Big Win Sirens: The stock "NBC sirens" were heard for $20,000, $40,000, Bonus Sprint, and Tournament wins.
- Bonus Round: The Scrabble Sprint (and later, the Bonus Sprint).
- Bonus Space: Blue and pink squares, which awarded $500 and $1,000 respectively (if solved immediately after being filled in) during the best-known format. Their locations and colors matched up to the bonus spaces on the original game board: blue for Double/Triple Letter, pink for Double/Triple Word.
- Celebrity Edition: Scrabble would occasionally feature stars from NBC television series, and even featured two Game Show Host editions—the first of which saw Double Dare host Marc Summers filling in as host during rounds in which Chuck became a contestant.note
- Home Game: One was released by Selchow & Righter in 1987, called TV Scrabble. A board game of a game show of a board game.
- Home Participation Sweepstakes: Many over the course of both versions, generally resulting in Speedword being played before either contestant got two words.
- Starting with the format overhaul in September 1986, viewers were invited to send in words and clues to be used in the opening sequence. The viewer whose word was chosen each day received a Scrabble T-shirt.
- The Announcer: Originally Jay Stewart, with Charlie Tuna replacing him in fall 1985 (after having alternated with Stewart since the start of the year) so Stewart could concentrate on sister show Sale of the Century. Rod Roddy held this role on the 1984 pilot.
- Game Show Host: Chuck Woolery. Steve Edwards hosted a 1990 pilot for a proposed syndicated run via Group W/Westinghouse.
- Studio Audience
- Progressive Jackpot: Used in the Bonus Sprint; from 1986 to 1990 (including the Edwards pilot), $5,000 base, $1,000 added per day not won. For the '93 series, $1,000 base, increased every time someone solved on a pink or blue square in the Crossword game ($500 for blue, $1,000 for pink).
- Speed Round: Speedword, played at three different times - when all three Stoppers had been drawn for a word, after a 2-2 tie (starting in early 1985), and whenever time ran short (during the second format).
- Also applies to the Scrabble Sprint, in which the contestant who correctly guess four words faster wins.
- Whammy: The Stoppers in the front game.
Building on the letter "O", six letters in the word, and the clue is: You'll spend hours with them.
- April Fools' Day: On the April Fool's Day 1989 episode, Chuck walked out and recited his Wheel of Fortune opening spiel, complete with "Once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep." and the Wheel puzzle reveal chimes.
- Berserk Button: Don't solve a puzzle if there's a pink or blue square open and only one Stopper left, unless that Stopper is the only letter in front of you. Especially in the '93 series, when those squares were the only way the Bonus Sprint increased in value.
- The Chew Toy:
- The show's head writer, Gary Johnson. Whenever an unusually bizarre clue came up, Chuck would ask, "This is another one of Gary's [clues], isn't it?" More often than not, it was.
- Jan Rabson was also a frequent target.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The Bonus Squares.
- Companion Cube: Literally, the game board was a giant revolving cube, with two sides for Crossword/Sprint rounds, and two sides that were basic Scrabble boards with neon. On one 1989 episode, the game board started sliding back during a round. Once the technicians fixed it, Chuck told the board "Sit! Stay!"
- One of the changes for the '93 version was that it didn't revolve, though this was because at some point between the 1990 pilot and taping for the '93 series, the Cube's motor got damaged and simply couldn't turn anymore.
- A Day in the Limelight: During a special 1987 week where various game show hosts (including Jamie Farr, who never actually hosted a full-time game show and was plugged as being host of Double Up, which ended up not selling) played for home viewers, Chuck played several games with Marc Summers as host; in one game, Chuck won $12,000.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- For the first 2¼ years, the games straddled: Two new contestants competed in the Crossword Game, with the winner playing the Sprint against the returning champ. Players who won five Sprints got a $20,000 bonus (changed to their total being augmented to $20K in early '85), while a 10-time champs got another $20,000 (changed to their total being granted him/her a total of $40,000 (originally $55,500) and rendered him/her undefeated.
- The bonus squares were for decoration for most of the first three months. Starting in October 1984, $500 was awarded for a correct guess on a blue square, and $1,000 was awarded for pink squares. This and the "Chuck Bucks", which debuted in early '85, were removed for the duration of the Spelling format.
- For the first seven episodes of the series, the Crossword game added money into a pot for each letter (an element carried over from the pilot), and the Sprint round was worth three times the winning Crossword amount instead of $1,500.
- Originally, the Sprint round had the challenger pick one of two envelopes (pink or blue), with the champ playing the other packet. In March 1985, this was changed to have them play the same three (later four) words, with the returning champ being ushered into an isolation booth.
- In the Sprint round, players could call every letter that popped up. In January 1985, this was altered to have the other letter go back into the shuffle.
- Originally, if a champion retired undefeated, another Sprint round would be played with two new contestants to find a replacement champ. This was done only once (July 24, 1984), after Annie McCormick retired undefeated. By the time the show had its second undefeated champ in August '84, this had changed to playing two consecutive Crossword rounds.
- The short-lived Spelling format offered $50 for a white square, $100 for a blue square, and $200 (later $500) for a pink square that hadn't been filled in yet. The contestant that won the match won the all the cash from all the words played.
- Freudian Slip: "All righty, let's recrap the scores... recap them, actually."
- Grand Finale: The 1990 finale ended with Chuck thanking the staff and crew for the past six years, followed by a $6,000 Sprint win. The champ, George Sealy, came back to defend his title when the series returned in 1993.
- Halloween Special: With the contestants dressed in costume. This would usually be the basis for the one-phrase introductions Charlie Tuna would use at the beginning of each round, such as "He's a real Bozo; she'll move her tail for you," for a man dressed as a clown and a woman dressed as a cat.
- Hurricane of Puns: The clues for the words.
- In Name Only: The mechanics of the game show had very little to do with the board game itself.
- Obvious Rule Patch:
- For the first year of the show's initial run, the two Sprint contestants were each played with different sets of words during the same round. The challenger picked from an envelope (blue or pink) from which to play, giving the champion the one not chosen.
- Afterwards, the show began having the challenger and the champion play to determine who could solve the same four words faster. Initially, both players' turns were taken within the a two-minute time frame. The champion headed offstage into a Sound Proof Booth before the challenger played, which set the time to beat. The champion would be brought in immediately afterward to try to finish faster.
- The "same four words" format saw later refinement to fit Scrabble's eventual, permanent self-contained format: An episode's first game's winner establishes a time before two new contestants begin playing the second game. The second game's winner plays to beat the first Sprint player's time.
- Opening Narration: See above.
- "This is [Contestant's name here, drumroll plays]! In just a few moments he/she could win $20,000 note today on Scrabble!" (Used during the "straddling" format if he/she was going for a fifth or 10th win.)
- Pink Girl, Blue Boy: The contestants' nametags.
- One contestant, named Andre François Jean DuPuy, had both pink and blue tags for his first three names.
- Rule of Three: Primarily used during the front game the front game: Three stoppers per word; solve three words to win.
- Rules Spiel:
- "We'll play Scrabble until someone guesses three words right; that player goes on to the Scrabble Sprint for a chance at a bonus worth [today's pot size]. Take a look at the board as we set up for our first game...When you think you know the word, hit your buzzer, and don't forget the pink and blue bonus squares; they're worth money."
- In the Sprint: "Don't forget to hit the plunger, that's what stops the clock. There are no Stoppers; all the letters are good."
- Pilot: Taped in March 1984 with Rod Roddy announcing, a lot of different graphics, and an odd format (involving cash in the Crossword game, and the player with the best Sprint time at the end of the week getting a $25,000 bonus).
- Scrabble Babble: Sorry, averted. However, the show sometimes used proper names, which are forbidden in the traditional game.
- Shout-Out: During the first Tournament of Champions in February 1985, Chuck said that they borrowed the glass suitcase from Sale of the Century, another Reg Grundy series that aired on NBC.
- Stock Footage: From 1984 to 1986, each episode began with a shot of the set from the 1984 pilot. The set in the pilot had a faster chase light configuration than the one for the series. After the opening spiel, the shot from the current episode, with host Chuck Woolery making his entrance, was then shown. Between February 14 and August 14, 1986, the studio audience began appearing on camera.
- Spiritual Successor: Scrabble Showdown on The Hub, with the "Scrabble Lightning" round featuring similar gameplay (complete with punny clues).
- Stage Money: For most of the original series, Chuck would walk to the contestants and hand out bonus money if they answered correctly after hitting a pink or blue square. The bills were printed with his picture and referred to as "Chuck Bucks". In 1993, the money just went into a pot for the Sprint.
- The show regularly did tournament weeks during these occasions, featuring past champions, teens, teen stars, game show hosts, and soap stars, among others.
- One in particular was instrumental in establishing the show's better-known format: "The $100,000 All-American Scrabble Tournament", which ran for 13 weeks from September 29 to December 26, 1986 (64 episodes due to a Thanksgiving pre-emption). One hundred eighty-eight of the best players were selected via a nationwide search. Four of them competed in each episode in preliminary matches from Monday to Thursday. There were two Crossword Rounds (with the typical $500 and $1,000 bonuses for blue and pink squares respectively), and each was followed by a Scrabble Sprint round. The winner of the first Crossword Round won $500, and played four words of six, seven, eight, and nine letters to try to set a time for the winner of the second Crossword Round between two other players. That player would try to beat the time set by the first player, and success meant the player would win $1,000 and advance to the next round.
- On Friday, the four daily winners competed in two quarterfinal matches, and whoever won the second Sprint Round won $5,000 and advanced to the semifinals round for the final week of the tournament. For the ninth week, a wild card player was chosen for that week's quarterfinal matches.
- During the final week (December 22-26), the 12 winners and four wild card players competed in semifinals matches, with the four finalists competing in that Friday's final matches for the grand prize of $100,000. The winner was future Win Ben Stein's Money champion Mark Bartos, with a grand total of $114,500 ($14,500 of which he earned during the Crossword Games and Sprints).
- The following Monday, this format was adapted and slightly modified for the purposes of regular episodes and future tournaments, adding the Bonus Sprint. In addition, these $100,000 Tournament episodes were the very first to be shown on USA Network in the fall of 1991.
- Take That!: On the 1990 finale, after the second word, Chuck wondered whether he had been cancelled and the show was all right.Chuck: I kept telling 'em, "Look, find somebody else to do it, it'll be a huge hit. Look what happened to Wheel!"
- Contestant Terry Ray has some fun wordplay with Chuck in this Sprint round.
Chuck: We were looking for WIMPS.
- After being stumped on his first word ("They do things weakly") without offering a guess, Terry takes in some Self-Deprecation:
Terry: WIMPS? And I may qualify as that, I don't know.
Chuck: Well, now, I wouldn't say that.
Chuck: You ever do exercises and stuff like that? What's that guy's name? Richard Simmons, yeah.
- Before going to his make-up word, Terry takes a jab at a rather energetic fitness guru...
Terry: Now, he's a wimp. See?
Chuck: I can't win!
- Contestant Terry Ray has some fun wordplay with Chuck in this Sprint round.
- Who Writes This Crap?!: Whenever he read a really silly or suggestive clue, Chuck had no reservations in addressing the writing staff.